Career Path Flickr copyright Abhijit BHadurl
Career Path Flickr copyright Abhijit BHadurl

Becoming a CIO can be a challenge for IT professionals as the CIO role demands a variety of business and technical skills.

It's difficult going from a software engineer to a CIO. CIO UK looks at the career path from a software engineer to making a step up in responsibilities in climbing the career ladder to becoming a senior CIO.

How one software engineer became a CIO: What does a software engineer do and how much do they earn?

Software engineers apply, develop and test systems which can enable technology to perform business applications. A CIO’s role has increased in leading the organisation through change from managing IT talent, developing digital technology and building relationships with marketing and finance putting digital at the core of the business strategy.  

The demand for a CIO has inceased in the business model. According to the 2016 Harvey Nash technology survey, on average a UK software engineer earns £50,430 compared to a CIO who earns £156.312.

A software engineer and a CIO’s role are similar in using technology in helping to work towards the shared business goal, a career path taken by Colin Lees at BT Business who sees his career move as an “accidental path” in going from a software engineer to a CIO.

How one software engineer became a CIO: Making the steps to become a CIO

CIO UK asked Lees about the process of becoming a CIO.

“I went into the interview very relaxed saying I wasn’t fit for the job because you need someone who understands the business”, he said. “I was happy in leading software teams. If you want me to challenge your product teams, tell them what technology can and can’t do, to help make technology be a bigger part of the business and bring the engineering perspective into the team I can do that…but if you want a business man then that’s not for me.”

CIO Lees’ leadership skills and technology background put him ahead of fellow competitors with a “current trend” in an emergence as a strategic technology leader in the CIO role.

How one software engineer became a CIO : Relationship with the board

The move from software engineer to joining an executive digital leading role on the board; has seen 29% of CIOs struggling in managing the BT increase of responsibilities, according to the 2016 BT report.

“I have progressed through my career and worked at higher levels of the company in working with teams of people, managing more budgets and scope…finding the workload increasing and becoming relentless with my time management skills," says Lees.

“I’m a much better engineer having been part of the board because I understand how revenue works often losing sight as a software engineer of the customers buying products at the end. In understanding revenues and the standards of how the company flows I can create a better solution for the business strategy," he said.

A software engineer path to CIO has seen Lees’ role in building a better relationship with the board in developing to more opportunities for future CIOs.

BT is a technology organisation so I was fortunate that the technology role was already on board. As the CIO I look after the IT network and I sit on the board, which is not a position all CIOs are in today. I think the relationship with the board will change the technology role, in being moved to across all industries of board level.”

“For me the relationship then was extremely tense because there had been a new IT stack for a few years, which was not going very well.  They had fallen out with each other and which is why they wanted an engineer  to join the team and help to solve that problem. The relationship between technology and the board has been greatly improved in implementing a strong technology strategy across the business and the public sector,” he said.

How one software engineer became a CIO: Future for BT Business

The CIO role has a greater opportunity in developing new digital technology, with 45% of executives expecting their digital leader to have creativity as a vital skill. (See also:Why a CIO should aim to be creative in their role).

“I think the one word to be describe the CIO role over the next 12 months is exciting,” he said. “A CIO's role will be the bridge between business and technology with the advances in tech happening in all industries. There has become so many labels for a CIO title.”

“Whether you are a CIO, CTO or CDO those are almost interchangeable ways. If you work in technology it will be a fascinating time to be a CIO,” Lees said.

BT Business is working towards delivering a better service for its businesses in the UK, and CIO Lees often sees the company as “not always” achieving this goal by having to get the “basics right first” in improving their customer service.

“You hear BT in the news sadly too frequently, so our priority is to be the number one business provider and making sure the service and the way we handle customers is excellent," he added.

BT Business will implement a digital strategy, led by Lees which will fundamentally bring a fixed mobile solution together. The strategy will see the customers no longer needing to worry about having a landline moving towards mobile.

In Lees the company is benefitting from a technology and buisness leader who understands the issues from both a technical and commercial viewpoint.